Diminishing role of trade credit; impact of Red Sea disturbance; outlook on monetary policy and rupee

In this month, we look at the performance of export credit in FY24 and its diminishing role. We extend our investigation into the Red Sea impact on India’s trade to pick up early signals. This is followed by a quick assessment of US and India’s monetary policy along with the outlook on the Indian rupee.

1. Diminishing role of export credit

Export credit registered its second consecutive contraction (-30% and -37% in 2022-23 and 2023-24 respectively), with the magnitude of outstanding credit slipping to Rs 12,900 cr for the year ending Mar-24. In value terms, this is the lowest level of export credit in last 17-years. More importantly, we note that the importance of export credit has been slipping over the years:

  • In 2023-24, the share of export credit in total bank credit slipped to a record low level of 0.08%.
  • The ratio of export credit to merchandise credit has fallen from its peak of 3.8% in 2007-08 to 0.4% in 2023-24.

Chart 1: Role of export credit in trade financing has diminished considerably

Source: RBI, CEIC, QuantEco Research

At a cursory level, we note that while India’s market share in global exports has improved since 2007-08 to its record high levels of 1.8-1.9% in 2023-24, the economy’s export intensity (captured by the ratio of merchandise exports to GDP) has moderated to 12.2% in 2023-24, which is marginally below its pre COVID levels of 12.5%, but significantly lower than its peak performance of 17.0% in 2011-12. The trend of improving market share coupled with reducing export intensity (on the merchandise side) is intriguing and needs to be researched and investigated in detail by the policymakers.

A reduction in export intensity at an economy wide level translates into a lower requirement for export credit. Having said, it is also possible that alternatives to bank-based export credit are now readily being availed by exporters.

Chart 2: India’s export intensity has reduced even though its’s export market share has improved

Note: Data for FY24 refers to the period Apr-Dec 2023

Source: RBI, WTO, CEIC, QuantEco Research

2. Is there any evidence of Red Sea impact on India’s merchandise exports?

Notwithstanding the ongoing disruption to global merchandise trade on account of geopolitical conflict in the Middle East region, India’s export performance has held up with annualized growth in merchandise exports improving to 2.9% in Jan-Mar FY24 over Oct-Dec FY24. This could be reflective of the impact of higher international commodity prices along with resilience in global demand (highlighted in our last month’s issue).

Since the start of the Red Sea disturbance in Dec-23, the underlying sequential momentum in India’s merchandise trade over Jan-Apr 2024 period has shown a mixed trend, with 2 out of 4 months exceeding the seasonal sequential benchmark, and vice versa (see table below). This points towards lack of any conclusive evidence of an adverse impact of recent geopolitical disturbances.

Table 1: Headline exports does not show any conclusive evidence of sub-par performance post the Red Sea disturbance

Note: (i) Month-over-month change is on the $ value of exports; (ii) Seasonal behaviour represents last 30Y median

Source: India’s Commerce Ministry, CEIC, QuantEco Research

A cursory look at India’s export destinations that exhibited weakness in the post Red Sea period (defined as more than 10 percentage point slide in annualized export performance in Jan-Mar FY24 over Oct-Dec FY24) indicates no conclusive evidence of systematic disruption – the geographical distribution of such export destination appears to be well spread.

Chart 3: Decline in demand India’s exports post the Red Sea disturbance shows a mixed geographical distribution

Source: India’s Commerce Ministry, CEIC, QuantEco Research

Having said, we note that the threat of Red Sea disruption remains alive. As per the FIEO (Federation of Indian Exporters’ Organisations), “delays and higher costs of shipping can lead to more order cancellations and hurt India’s competitive edge in global markets”. We would continue to track data in this space to arrive at early signals.

Table 1: Europe-Asia trade is the worst affected on account of Red Sea disturbance

Source: WTO, QuantEco Research

3. Monetary Policy: Easing by the US Fed to get delayed

Market expectations regarding Fed’s monetary policy trajectory remains on tenterhooks and is seen to be swaying with every notable surprise in key US economic data. Continued resilience in US activity data coupled with stickiness in inflation has already led to a significant pruning of market expectations of rate cuts from the Fed – the current pricing by futures market suggests likelihood of 1-2 rate cuts before the end of 2024, down from the expectation of 5-6 rate cuts at the beginning of the year.

This pushback in the anticipated rate easing in US could have an impact on other emerging market economies, like India. A surplus rainfall projected for the 2024 south-west monsoon season is preceded by (ongoing) severe heatwave conditions across India in Apr-Jun, that could cause some volatility in food price pressures in the near term. We expect the RBI to start easing monetary policy from Oct-24 onwards, with likelihood of a cumulative 50 bps rate cut by Mar-25.

Chart 4: Market participants expect 1-2 rate cuts from the US Fed in 2024

Source: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

4. Rupee view

Notwithstanding gyrations in the global currency markets in last 1-2 months, the Indian rupee kickstarted the new financial year 2024-25 on a firm footing vs. the USD. Although the general election cycle is currently underway, we believe the overall policy backdrop of macroeconomic stability is likely to prevail in near-to-medium term. While this would continue to provide a stable underpinning to the INR, global factors like uncertainty around the US monetary policy trajectory and geopolitical risks could result in bouts of depreciation pressure. Overall, INR’s 6-7% overvaluation, and RBI’s penchant for reserve accumulation would tilt the balance in favor of a mild depreciation. We maintain our call of USDINR moving towards 84.50 levels by Mar-25 vs. FY24 close of 83.43.

5. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between May 21, 2024 and Dec 31, 2023; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices; (iv) rounded off figures represented.

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

Cautious optimism on global trade; outlook on monetary policy and rupee

In this month, we focus on the outlook for global trade and its implications for India. This is followed by a quick assessment of US and India’s monetary policy along with the outlook on the Indian rupee.

1. Global trade to rebound in 2024, but risks remain

First, the good news. As per the World Trade Organization’s Global Trade Outlook and Statistics report (Apr-24), compared to a contraction of 1.2% in 2023, world merchandise trade volume is projected to expand by 2.6% in 2024 and further by 3.3% in 2025. As per the agency, easing of global inflationary pressures and the concomitant increase in household incomes should help support demand for merchandise trade in 2024 and 2025.

Chart 1: After a contraction in 2023, global merchandise trade volume is expected to recover in 2024 and 2025

Note: Values for 2024 and 2025 are forecasts by the WTO

Source: WTO, QuantEco Research

A similar portrayal is also done by the International Monetary Fund, in their World Economic Outlook presented in Apr-24. As per their forecasts, volume of global trade (goods+services) is set to expand by 3.0% and 3.3% in 2024 and 2025 respectively after a subdued growth of 0.3% in 2023.

From India’s perspective, the expectation of revival in global trade is comforting – after all, merchandise exports and services exports had a share of 12.5% and 9.7% in India’s GDP in CY2023. We take a regional look at what could drive this revival from India’s perspective.

As per the WTO, growth in demand for imports on volume basis is expected to be the strongest for countries in Asia over 2024 and 2025. This is expected to be followed by countries in South America and Africa. Demand for imports is likely to be the weakest from the CIS group of countries in 2024 and 2025, followed by the European and Middle East countries.

Table 1: Regional heatmap depicting growth in volume of merchandise import demand

Note: (i) Figures in parenthesis lists the region’s share in India’s merchandise exports in 2023 in percentage terms, (ii) Asia includes Oceania

Source: India’s Commerce Ministry, WTO, QuantEco Research

Notwithstanding the optimistic outlook for global trade, there are unpredictable downside risks due to current geopolitical conflicts (esp. in the Middle East/ West Asia region) and trade policy uncertainty (esp. involving US and China). Notably, while the trade volume forecasts by the WTO and the IMF for 2024 suggest recovery, both estimates were marked down by 70 bps and 50 bps respectively vis-à-vis their previous forecast levels provided in Oct-23.

2. A quick round-up of India’s export performance in FY 2023-24

As per preliminary estimates from the Ministry of Commerce, India’s merchandise exports contracted by 3.1% to USD 437 bn in FY 2023-24 from USD 451 bn in FY 2022-23. At a granular level, there were wide variations in category wise export performance.

  • Electronic items grew at the fastest pace, with its annualized share in the total export basket scaling an all-time high of 6.7%.
  • Stone, Plaster, Cement, etc. did well as a category, which helped its annualized share in the total export basket touch 1.0%.
  • Meanwhile, Leather, Gems & Jewellery, Plastic & Rubber, and Textiles saw their share in the total export basket dip to an all-time low of 1.0%, 7.5%, 1.8%, and 7.4% respectively.
  • With respect to incremental change in sectoral shares, while Electronics saw the biggest increase, Petroleum products saw the largest decline.

Chart 2: Despite contraction at an aggregate level, there was wide variation in the performance of key export categories in FY 2023-24

Source: Ministry of Commerce, QuantEco Research

2. Monetary Policy Shift: Easing by the US Fed to get delayed

Since our last update in Mar-24, there has been a considerable reassessment of market expectation with respect to the monetary policy trajectory in the US. Continued resilience in US economic data has started to cast doubt whether the entire cumulative rate cut of 225 bps as indicated by the latest Fed official’s projection for 2024-2026 period would be needed to glide Core PCE inflation towards its target of 2.0% by 2026.

The recent hardening of global crude oil prices has further dampened the outlook for near term inflation prospects.

As such, market participants have scaled back their expectation of imminent monetary easing by the US Fed. The futures market currently indicates the probability of just under two round rate cuts before the end of CY 2024. This is lower than the expectation of at least three round of rate cuts for 2024, just about a month back. We now expect the Fed to begin cutting rates from Sep-24 onwards, with possibility of up to 75 bps cumulative rate cut by Mar-25.

This pushback in the anticipated rate easing in US could have an impact on other emerging market economies, like India. A surplus rainfall projected for the 2024 south-west monsoon season will be preceded by (ongoing) severe heatwave conditions across India in Apr-Jun, that will potentially stoke food price pressures in the near term. As such, we now expect the RBI to start easing monetary policy from Oct-24 onwards, with likelihood of a cumulative 50 bps rate cut by Mar-25.

3. Rupee view

The Indian rupee clocked a mild depreciation of 1.5% against the US dollar in FY 2023-24. This was accompanied by subdued volatility, both from a historical perspective, as well as compared to key currency peers across the DM (developed markets) and EM (emerging markets) FX space. Our baseline view for FY25 mirrors the outturn in FY24, i.e., the likelihood of a mild depreciation accompanied by subdued volatility.

In recent weeks, global factors have turned adverse on the margin:

  • Resilience in US economic data has pushed back expectations of monetary policy easing by the US Fed, as discussed above. This has provided a leg up to the US dollar, which in turn has weighed upon emerging market currencies, including the Indian rupee.
  • Escalation of geopolitical conflict in the Middle East/ West Asia region is providing an upside to the US dollar (as it enjoys a safe haven status) as well as crude oil prices (this could potentially weigh upon the rupee as oil accounts for ~40% of India’s merchandise trade deficit).

These risks could get partly offset on account of resilience in India’s underlying macro-stability parameters, our forecast of a Balance of Payments surplus in FY 2024-25, and expectation of a recovery in global trade, as discussed above.

Overall, we maintain our call of USDINR moving towards 84.5 levels by Mar-25.

Chart 3: While total trade deficit remains moderate, portfolio inflows have lost momentum in recent weeks

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

Note: FPI flow data for Apr-24 is until 21st

4. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between Apr 19, 2024 and Dec 31, 2023; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices; (iv) rounded off figures represented.

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

India`s trade negotiations; outlook on monetary policy and rupee

Last few weeks saw hectic activity in the sphere of policies with respect to global trade. We take a cursory look at the key developments. This is followed by a quick assessment of US and India’s monetary policy along with the outlook on the Indian rupee.

1. Implications of recent trade related policy developments

During the last few weeks, India participated in three global trade related policy developments, viz., WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference, India-EFTA Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement, and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. Below, we highlight key takeaways from each:

WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13)

The WTO’s MC13 meet that concluded on Mar 2nd with participation from 166 trade ministers saw the acceptance of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, which turned out to be rather underwhelming. Geopolitical uncertainty (like wars involving Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas), slowdown in few economies, and pending elections in several countries in 2024 posed headwinds, with the MC13 failing to conclude several areas of negotiations. To highlight, deals on fisheries and agriculture remains open while consensus on WTO’s dispute settlement architecture is yet to be formed. However, negotiations on the extension of the e-commerce moratorium offered a silver lining.

From India’s perspective, we note that:

  • The current stance on MSP (Minimum Support Price) and PSH (Public Stock Holding) was maintained with no commitment towards reduction in farm subsidy unless WTO delivers a permanent solution on PSH for all members and protects the treaty-embedded Special and Differential Treatment provision in the Agreement on Agriculture.
  • The stance on fisheries was maintained as no restrictions within the EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones) for preserving livelihood and food security.
  • India opposed duty-free digital transmission to safeguard against potential revenue losses amidst the need for supervising growing digital trade.

India-EFTA Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement

After over a decade of negotiations, India signed the Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement with EFTA countries (comprising Switzerland, Iceland, Norway & Liechtenstein) on Mar 10th. The TEPA with EFTA countries is unique as:

  • This is India’s first FTA with four developed nations
  • For the first time in history of FTAs, binding commitment of USD 100 bn FDI and 1 mn direct jobs in the next 15 years has been given by the EFTA countries

The agreement comprises of 14 chapters with main focus on market access related to goods, rules of origin, trade facilitation, trade remedies, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, investment promotion, market access on services, intellectual property rights, trade and sustainable development and other legal and horizontal provisions.

Under this deal, India will reduce most import tariffs on processed food and beverages along with electrical machinery items, pharmaceutical products, and medical devices (gold imports will not receive any tariff concession) from the four countries in return for investments over 15 years. The investments are expected to be made across a range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, machinery, and manufacturing.

As per India’s Ministry of Commerce, the FTA will provide a window to Indian exporters for improved access to the European market. In addition, the FTA aims to provide Mutual Recognition Agreements in professional services (such as Nursing, Chartered Accountancy, and Architecture) for cross-border exchanges and collaborations while also boosting agreements in services like IT, Business, Culture, and Education.

Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEFP)

India along with its other IPEFP partners had their first ministerial meeting on Mar 14th. IPEFP was launched in May-22, bringing together 14 regional partners (Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, US, and Vietnam) – in a new model of economic cooperation. While the Framework is not a trade agreement/treaty, it nevertheless seeks to advance cooperation across four key pillars of Trade, Supply Chains, Clean Economy, and Fair Economy.

India has signed a supply chain resilience agreement with the US and 12 other members of the IPEFP to reduce its dependence on China. It has so far stayed away from the trade pillar of the Framework.

Table 1: India currently has 18 key trade agreements on bilateral and multilateral basis

Note: There is often a lag between signing of a trade agreement and its implementation

Source: India’s Commerce Ministry, PIB, US International Trade Administration, Media reports, QuantEco Research

Table 2: India currently has 10 key ongoing trade negotiations on bilateral and multilateral basis

Note: As per media reports, negotiations with EU and UK are at an advanced stage

Source: India’s Commerce Ministry, PIB, QuantEco Research

2. Outlook on monetary policy

Along expected lines, the US Fed left its policy rate unchanged (in the 5.25-5.50% range) at its policy review on Mar 20, 2024. However, there were few noticeable changes in the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) projections:

  • The outlook for growth saw an upgrade across 2024-2026. The most sizeable upward revision was seen in case of 2024, with GDP growth now projected at 2.1% vs. the earlier projection of 1.4% in Dec-23.
  • The forecast for unemployment rate in 2024 and 2026 saw a minor downward revision to 4.0% from 4.1% projected earlier in Dec-23.
  • Forecast for Core PCE inflation for 2024 saw an upward revision to 2.6% from 2.4% projected earlier in Dec-23.
  • Last, but not the least, the median projection for fed funds rate for 2024 stood unchanged at 4.6%. This maintains the likelihood of 75 bps cumulative rate cut from the Fed before the end of 2024. In contrast, the projection for fed funds rate for 2025 and 2026 saw an upward revision to 3.9% and 3.1% from its earlier projection of 3.6% and 2.9% respectively in Dec-23.

Market pricing of US interest rate as per the futures market is currently in sync with the latest set of FOMC projections. We maintain our expectation of the first rate cut from the US Fed to begin from Jun-24 onwards.

With this as a backdrop, other key central banks could also begin their rate easing cycle with a lag (among developed countries, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) has in fact taken the lead, by announcing its first rate cut in Mar-24). In case of India, as CPI inflation starts providing durable comfort in the coming quarters, we expect the RBI to start its monetary easing cycle. With government recently announcing a series of fuel price cuts (Rs 100 per cylinder on LPG, Rs 2.1 per litre on diesel, and Rs 2.0 per litre on petrol), the RBI’s FY25 CPI inflation estimate of 4.5% could see some downside adjustment. As such, we now bring forward our expectation of the first rate cut from the RBI to Aug-24 from Oct-24 earlier, while maintaining the likelihood of 75 bps cumulative rate cut by Mar-25.

Table 3: In last 3-months, there has been an increase in Fed’s optimism with respect to the US economy

Source: Federal Reserve, QuantEco Research

3. Rupee view

After three consecutive months of mild appreciation, INR has reversed direction, and is currently trading 0.6% weaker against the USD in the month of Mar-24 so far. While INR was behaving in line with its favorable financial year-end seasonality and had strengthened somewhat in the first 2-3 weeks of Mar-24 (touching 82.75 on Mar 11th vs. 82.91 on Feb 29th), the reversal happened post the US Fed policy outcome, and more importantly after the SNB’s surprise rate cut, dilution of Bank of England’s hawkishness, and market expectations of a rate cut from the People’s Bank of China. While the USD appears to be on a rather neutral turf post the Mar-24 FOMC meet, expectation of monetary easing is weighing upon CNY, which in turn is adversely impacting other emerging market currencies, including the INR.

While we still believe that INR will be supported by favorable financial year-end trade seasonality along with healthy portfolio inflows (India has received USD 5.8 bn FPI inflow in Mar-24 so far), last few days of price action in the global currency market has added upside risk to our Mar-24 INR call of 82.5.

Having said so, we do maintain our medium-term view of a mild depreciation in INR, with likelihood of 84.5-85.0 by Mar-25. RBI’s proactive FX intervention should continue to remain a key source of suppression in INR volatility.

Chart 1: In recent months, INR has found support from narrowing of total trade deficit along with healthy portfolio inflows

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

Note: FPI flow data for Mar-24 is until 21st

4. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between Mar 15, 2024 and Dec 31, 2023; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices; (iv) rounded off figures represented.

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

FY25 Interim Budget; outlook on monetary policy and rupee

The month of Feb-23 started with the presentation of the interim budget for 2024-25. We parse through the signals to look at key takeaways along with implication of exporters. This is followed by a quick assessment of US and India’s monetary policy along with the outlook on the Indian rupee.

1. FY25 Interim Budget prioritizes fiscal consolidation

The central government presented the 2024-25 interim budget (this will be superseded by the normal budget post the new government formation in Jun/Jul 2024) on Feb 1st, 2024. Although this was a vote-on-account, the Finance Minister clearly emphasized on the policy priority of maintaining macroeconomic soundness via two primary avenues:

  • Accelerating the process of fiscal consolidation
    • After revising lower the fiscal deficit target for 2023-24 to 5.8% of GDP from 5.9% earlier, the interim budget consolidated further, with target for fiscal deficit budgeted at 5.1% of GDP for 2024-25, lower than market expectation of 5.2-5.4%.
  • Prioritization of capital expenditure
    • Allocation for capital expenditure is set to increase to a 20-year high of 3.4% of GDP in 2024-25 vis-à-vis 3.2% in 2023-24. Bulk of the capex allocation in 2024-25 will be geared towards the transport (esp. roads and railways) and defence sectors.

Chart 1: While fiscal deficit is set to reach its post pandemic low in 2024-25, allocation for capex is set to create a record multi-decade high

Source: Budget documents, CEIC, QuantEco Research

While that’s comforting from the perspective of overall macro stability and investor confidence, specific allocation towards external trade (under the Department of Commerce) saw a sizeable pruning.

  • Specific trade related expenditure is set to contract by 41% in 2024-25 after witnessing a 16% contraction in 2023-24
    • Bulk of the contraction budgeted in 2024-25 is an account of lower allocation for Interest Equalisation and Duty Drawback Schemes
    • Notwithstanding the headline contraction, allocation for Assistance to Special Economic Zones and towards WTO activities are budgeted for a moderate expansion.

Table 1: Specific trade related budgetary allocation to get pruned in 2024-25

Source: Budget documents, QuantEco Research

The sharp cut in the budgetary expenditure for the Department of Commerce in 2024-25 is not surprising as it accounts for the expiry of the Interest Equalisation Scheme after Jun-24. We do not believe this to have a material repercussion as recent steps taken by the government for export promotion are still playing out (for e.g., The Foreign Trade Policy, TIES/ MAI/ RoDTEP Schemes, Common Digital Platform for Certificate of Origin, facilitation of Districts as Export Hubs, promotion of e-commerce exports, etc.). Nevertheless, if some support is warranted on account of ongoing geopolitical disruptions (persistence of Red Sea disturbance could increase cost for exporters), the government could then look at extending the same in the upcoming normal budget in Jun/Jul 2024. Alternatively, with the Foreign Trade Policy now becoming dynamic, an addendum could get included to partially mitigate the adverse cost impact of geopolitical disruptions.

Chart 3: Global merchandise trade could potentially see a mild adverse impact due to disturbance in the Red Sea route

Source: IMF PortWatch, QuantEco Research

Note: The Red Sea region is a systemically important shipping lane that facilitates about 11% of global maritime trade. The key chokepoint lies around the Bab el-Mandeb Strait area, which in turn is connected to the Suez Canal, and is an important conduit for global maritime trade, connecting regions like Asia, Middle East, West & North Africa, Europe, and US East Coast. Most vessels are currently avoiding the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and opting for the longer route via the Cape of Good Hope.

2. Outlook on monetary policy

After maintaining a pause for four consecutive monetary policy reviews between Sep-23 and Jan-24 2023, the US Federal Reserve is once again expected to maintain the fed funds rate range unchanged at 5.25-5.50% in its forthcoming policy review meeting on Mar 20, 2024.

In the month of Jan-24, market participants were expecting the Fed to deliver cumulative rate cut of 125-150 bps from the Fed in 2024. We had highlighted that this seemed aggressive given residual inflationary pressures in the US economy, which has been witnessing a slower than anticipated loss of growth momentum.

Since then, the reversal of the rate tightening cycle by the Fed has got priced out, with market participants now expecting the first rate cut in Jun-24 vs. Mar-24 earlier. With this, the cumulative Fed rate cut expectation by market participants for 2024 currently stands adjusted at 75-100 bps. We believe the pricing now appears somewhat reasonable and investors should start positioning for the easing of US rate cycle from mid-2024 onwards.

With this as a backdrop, other key central banks could also begin their rate easing cycle with a lag. In case of India, as CPI inflation starts providing durable comfort in the coming quarters, we expect the RBI to start cutting repo rate from Oct-24 onwards with scope for up to 75 bps cumulative rate cut by Mar-25.

Table 2: Market expectation for rate easing is getting aligned with Fed member’s projections

Source: Federal Reserve, Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

Note: Fed Dot Plot reflects the median expectation of rate cuts by Fed members (as of Dec-23)

3. Rupee view

After facing persistent, albeit mild depreciation pressure over five consecutive months, INR is finally trying to recoup some of its losses. It appreciated by 0.2% each in Dec-23 and Jan-24 (closing the month at 83.04) and has gained another 0.1% in the month of Feb-24 so far (currently trading close to 82.97 levels).

  • We continue to believe that INR could remain supportive in Q4 FY24 on account of favorable year-end seasonality and market positioning ahead of India’s inclusion in JPM EM bond index (from Jun-24). In the last 5-months, India has received net foreign portfolio debt inflow of USD 9 bn, exceeding equity inflow of USD 2.9 bn.
  • While global geopolitical risk and domestic election related uncertainties remain on the table, the tail risks have reduced significantly amidst range-bound movement in commodity prices and the state elections that on aggregate basis went in favor of the incumbent BJP government at the centre.

Although the factors for a mild near-term appreciation in INR remain in place, we believe it is unlikely to result in a durable trend due to RBI’s active intervention in the FX market (during Sep-Dec 2023, the central bank cumulatively bought and sold record high amount of USD 131 bn and USD 133 bn on gross basis respectively, even as the cumulative net intervention was at a paltry USD 1.7 bn of sold position).

Overall, we maintain our USDINR call of 82.5 by Mar-24 and 84.5-85.0 by Mar-25.

Chart 4: Post the announcement of India’s inclusion in JPM EM Bond Index in Sep-23, foreign debt inflow has picked up pace

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

Note: Data for February is till 21st

4. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between Feb 20, 2024 and Dec 31, 2023; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices; (iv) rounded off figures represented.

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

Trade implications of the Red Sea disturbance; outlook on monetary policy and rupee 

With the Israel-Hamas war continuing to simmer in the backdrop, global trade is now confronting fresh concerns in the Red Sea trade route. We take a cursory look at these developments to assess the potential on India’s merchandise trade, esp. exports. This is followed by a quick assessment of US monetary policy along with the outlook on Indian rupee. 

1. Can the Red Sea disturbance lead to trade distress? 

Global supply chains have started facing disruption as maritime activity in the Red Sea region has dropped significantly following attacks by Houthis (a Yemen based rebel group, which is known to be backed by Iran, has declared its support for Hamas) on commercial vessels since the middle of Dec-23. The Red Sea region is a systemically important shipping lane that facilitates about 11% of global maritime trade volume as per the IMF. The key chokepoint lies around the Bab el-Mandeb Strait area, which in turn is connected to the Suez Canal, and is an important conduit for global maritime trade, connecting regions like Asia, Middle East, West & North Africa, Europe, and US East Coast. 

The ongoing attack by Houthis is forcing shipping vessels to divert to a much longer route around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. As such, the daily transit trade volume in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait area has dropped by 59% (from 4990 th metric ton to 2040 th metric ton) since the attacks in Dec-23. In the meantime, the Cape of Good Hope has seen an increase in maritime activity by 38% (from 4328 th metric ton to 5964 th metric ton), which has helped to partially offset the overall drag on global maritime trade activity. 

Chart 1: Disruption in Red Sea is leading to re-routing of global maritime trade  

  Source: IMF PortWatch, QuantEco Research 

This rerouting of global maritime trade is likely to have increased transit time by 2-3 weeks, while also resulting in a price escalation (manifested in the form of higher cost for freight, insurance, etc.). 

From India’s perspective, although it’s still early to assess the situation from an economic perspective, one needs to be watchful and cautious of the emerging dynamics of the Red Sea disturbance. Nevertheless, one could monitor India’s trade with Europe and North Africa that is likely to be the most impacted from Red Sea disturbance.  

  • Europe and North Africa had a share of 17.8% and 1.1% in India’s total trade during Apr-Nov FY24 respectively. India had a larger share of merchandise exports (at 22.7%) going to Europe and North Africa (1.8%) compared to merchandise imports from Europe (14.7%) and North Africa (0.6%) respectively during Apr-Nov FY24. 
  • Key goods traded include Machinery items, Gems & jewellery, Mineral fuels, Chemicals, Base metals, Vehicle parts, Optical & medical items, Textiles, etc. 

Chart 2: India’s trade with Europe and North Africa would be most vulnerable to the Red Sea disturbance 

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research 

For India, 2023 has been dismal for exporters, with cumulative exports seeing a ~5% contraction (data available until Nov-23) in value terms over 2022. A cursory glance at India’s headline export performance since 2009 reveals a higher frequency of contraction compared to the earlier period. The 15-year period between 1994-2008 saw just one year of export contraction for India. In contrast, the 15-year period between 2009-2023 saw seven episodes of contraction in India’s exports – that’s almost 47% of the time! Rise of trade protectionism and shortening of global business cycle since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (besides one-off factors like COVID) appear to have significantly weighed on external trade sentiment.

Chart 3: Key category of traded goods vulnerable to Red Sea disturbance   

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research 

Note:

(i) Exports and imports represent Top 10 items of India’s trade with Europe and North Africa,

(ii) Size of the    bubble denotes value of total trade

Since there is likely to be a cost escalation (which could get passed on if uncertainty persists), the overall impact will depend on price elasticity of individual traded items – in this case low margin items could be vulnerable, while items with solid demand might not feel any pinch. One also needs to consider the impact on quality degradation from delay in trade of agriculture and food related items. Further, the impact could also be felt to extent on India’s trade with US (esp. consignment directed to/from the east coast). 

2. Outlook on monetary policy  

After maintaining a pause for three consecutive monetary policy reviews between Sep-Dec 2023, the US Federal Reserve is widely expected keep fed fund rate range unchanged at 5.25-5.50% in its forthcoming policy review meeting on Jan 31, 2024. While market participants expect 125-150 bps of cumulative rate cut by the Fed before the end of 2024, recent spate of relatively strong-to-mixed economic data has pushed forward the expected timing of first rate cut from Mar-24 to May-24. 

This is somewhat in line with our expectation that the likelihood of an early reversal of the rate tightening cycle by the Fed is relatively low on account of residual inflationary pressures amidst slower than anticipated loss of growth momentum. As such, we continue to expect the Fed to start its rate cutting cycle from Jun-24 onwards. 

3. Rupee view  

After facing persistent, albeit mild depreciation pressure over five consecutive months, INR is finally trying to recoup some of its losses. It appreciated by 0.2% in Dec-23 (closing the month at 83.21) and has gained another 0.1% in the month of Jan-24 so far (currently trading close to 83.15 levels). 

  • We continue to believe that INR could remain supportive in Q4 FY24 on account of favorable year-end seasonality and market positioning ahead of India’s inclusion in JPM EM bond index (from Jun-24).  
  • While global geopolitical risk and domestic election related uncertainties remain on the table, the tail risks have reduced significantly amidst range-bound movement in commodity prices and the recently concluded state elections (that on aggregate basis went in favor of the incumbent BJP government at the centre). 
  • Notwithstanding the gyrations in market sentiment, the expectation of interest rate easing by the US Fed remains intact. This is bound to be supportive of emerging market currencies in the near-term. 

Although the factors for a mild near-term appreciation in INR are emerging, we believe it is unlikely to result in a durable trend due to RBI’s active intervention in the FX market (during Sep-Nov 2023, the central bank cumulatively bought and sold record high amount of USD 99 bn and USD 103 bn on average gross basis respectively, even as the cumulative net intervention was at a paltry USD 3.7 bn of sold position). In addition, Fed’s rate easing cycle in 2024 would soon be followed by key central banks over the medium term, thereby reducing the current bearishness on the USD. 

Chart 4: In recent months, FX market has seen record levels of intervention from the RBI   

4. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between Jan 22, 2024 and Dec 31, 2023; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices; (iv) rounded off figures represented. 

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research 

Winners and losers of global merchandise trade in 2023; outlook on monetary policy and rupee

The simmering of Israel-Hamas war continues to provide sporadic jitters to world trade. With 2023 coming to an end, we offer a bird’s eye view of merchandise trade performance. This is followed by a quick assessment of US monetary policy along with the outlook on Indian rupee.

1. 2023 global merchandise: Winners and losers

World merchandise trade experienced a decline through 2023 on account of moderation in demand as well as commodity prices. As per the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), the value of world merchandise trade is estimated to contract by approximately USD 2 trillion, representing a 7.5% fall compared to 2022.

On volume basis, while the aggregate picture is less sombre (as per CPB Netherlands, global merchandise trade expanded by 0.1% between Oct-23 and Dec-22), it is predominantly being driven by China and US. In contrast, Europe has performed poorly (amidst concentration of recent geopolitical risks), while Japan has nearly struggled to maintain last year’s run rate.

Chart 1: Among key economies, Eurozone and UK seem to have borne the brunt of trade slowdown in 2023

Source: CPB Netherlands, QuantEco Research

The upcoming year offers a sliver of hope with most multilateral bodies projecting a moderate recovery in world merchandise trade – as per the WTO, volume of global merchandise trade is projected to increase by 3.3% in 2024 compared to an estimated growth of 0.8% in 2023. Having said, there are notable risks that could continue impeding recovery in world trade:

  • On aggregate basis, the IMF expects World GDP growth to post a mild moderation to 2.9% from an estimated level of 3.0% in 2023. Lagged impact of tight financial conditions, simmering geopolitical risks (like the recent disturbance in the Red Sea trade route) and volatility in commodity prices could continue to provide uncertainty.
  • Trade protectionism has risen sharply in 2023. The resurgence in the use of industrial policy and the urgency of meeting climate commitments are driving changes in trade policies, both in the form of tariffs and non-tariff measures.

Chart 2: Protectionism continues to rise, inflicting harm on global trade

Source: GTA, QuantEco Research

For India, 2023 has been dismal for exporters, with cumulative exports seeing a ~5% contraction (data available until Nov-23) in value terms over 2022. A cursory glance at India’s headline export performance since 2009 reveals a higher frequency of contraction compared to the earlier period. The 15-year period between 1994-2008 saw just one year of export contraction for India. In contrast, the 15-year period between 2009-2023 saw seven episodes of contraction in India’s exports – that’s almost 47% of the time! Rise of trade protectionism and shortening of global business cycle since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (besides one-off factors like COVID) appear to have significantly weighed on external trade sentiment.

Chart 3: Frequency of India’s export contraction has increased in last few years

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

Looking one level beneath the surface, we find that export of Electronic Items has so far had a fantastic performance in 2023 with a robust growth of 35.3% YoY (led by telecom instruments), while the Gems & Jewellery sector, with a contraction of 19.2% YoY (primarily on account of pearls and other precious/semi-precious stones), bore the maximum brunt.

Chart 4: India’s exports in 2023: What went and down

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

2. Outlook on monetary policy

Along the expected lines, the US Fed maintained status quo on policy rates at its Dec-23 policy review. This marks the third consecutive meeting of no rate action by the Fed, with fed funds rate range being maintained at 5.25-5.50%. However, the highlight of the meeting was the projection of cumulative 75 bps rate cuts by the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) members in 2024, an upward revision from 50 bps earlier in Sep-23. This was perceived as a dovish signal by market participants, who have now started to price in 125-150 bps of cumulative rate in 2024, with 93% implied probability (derived from fed funds futures) of first rate cut in Mar-24.

We continue to believe that the likelihood of an early reversal of the rate tightening cycle by the Fed is relatively low on account of residual inflationary pressures amidst slower than anticipated loss of growth momentum. As such, we continue to expect the Fed to start its rate cutting cycle from Jun-24 onwards.

3. Rupee view

After facing persistent, albeit mild depreciation pressure over five consecutive months, INR is finally trying to recoup some of its losses. This is broadly in line with our moderately constructive call on INR (82.5 levels by Mar-24).

  • The dovish Fed policy outcome in Dec-23 has fuelled risk-on sentiment, thereby putting pressure on the US dollar, while benefiting other currencies, including the INR.
  • We continue to believe that INR could remain supportive in Q4 FY24 on account of favorable year-end seasonality and market positioning ahead of India’s inclusion in JPM EM bond index (from Jun-24).
  • While global geopolitical risk and domestic election related uncertainties remain on the table, the tail risks have reduced significantly amidst range-bound movement in commodity prices and the recently concluded state elections (that on aggregate basis went in favor of the incumbent BJP government at the centre).

Although the factors for a mild near-term appreciation in INR is emerging, we believe it is unlikely to result in a durable trend due to RBI’s active intervention in the FX market (during Sep-Oct 2023, the central bank bought and sold record high amount of USD 32 bn and USD 33 bn on average gross basis respectively, even as net intervention averaged at a paltry USD 0.9 bn of sold position). In addition, Fed’s rate easing cycle in 2024 would soon be followed by key central banks, thereby reducing the current bearishness on the USD.

Table 1: Market participants are more gung-ho about their Fed rate cut expectations vis-à-vis the FOMC members

Note: Fed rate action has been averaged basis cumulative projection of 75 bps cut by the FOMC

Data: FOMC, Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

4. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between Dec 22, 2023 and Dec 31, 2022; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices; (iv) rounded off figures represented.

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

Dark clouds with a silver lining marks global trade; outlook on monetary policy and rupee

Even as the Israel-Hamas war continues to simmer, tail risks for global trade have not yet acquired baseline characteristics. In this issue we highlight the emergence of a silver lining for global and Indian trade, while remaining cautious of the impending wave of slowdown. This is followed by a quick assessment of US monetary policy along with the outlook on Indian rupee.

1. Global merchandise trade: Dark clouds with silver lining

The World Trade Organization downgraded its forecast for growth in volume of world merchandise trade in 2023 to 0.8% vis-à-vis its earlier estimate of 1.7% in Apr-23. Slowdown in merchandise trade appears to be broad-based, involving many countries and a wide array of goods, esp. “certain categories of manufactures such as iron and steel, office and telecom equipment, textiles, and clothing”. A notable exception is passenger vehicle segment, sales of which have surged in 2023 so far. It appears that high inflation, tight monetary policy, dollar strength, and persistent geopolitical tensions have weighed upon global trade sentiment.

Chart 1: The WTO outlines a sombre near-term outlook for global trade

Source: WTO, QuantEco Research

While the forecast for 2023 appears sombre, there is a silver lining too:

  • Global supply chains have now reverted to their baseline values that existed prior to the pandemic. This suggests that supply conditions have normalised after pandemic-related disruptions over the last three years. Falling input and output prices also suggest that global inflationary pressures are waning.
  • WTO’s forecast for 2024 offers hope of recovery in global trade. If the forecast for 2024 is realised, then “Asia would be the fastest growing region on both the export and import sides”.

Chart 2: Global supply chain conditions have normalized after the pandemic related disruptions

Source: WTO, QuantEco Research

From India’s export perspective, we see this translating into tapering of contractionary pressure. On 3-month rolling basis, India’s merchandise exports grew by 2.3% YoY in Oct-23, marking its first expansion in 9-months.

Chart 3: India’s merchandise exports are showing early signs of expansion

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

The expansion in Oct-23 appears nearly broad-based. Barring plantation products and electronic items, all other subcategories of merchandise exports have shown an improvement in momentum on 3-month average basis. Improvement in last 3-months has been led by (i) Stone, plaster, cement, etc., (ii) Ores & minerals, (iii) Petroleum products, (iv) Marine products, (v) Textiles, (vi) Plastic & rubber items, (vii) Machinery items, and (viii) Gems & jewellery.

Chart 2: Recent improvement in India’s export momentum appears almost broad-based

Note: Size of the bubble corresponds to respective share in FY23 merchandise exports

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

2. Outlook on monetary policy

Along expected lines, the US Fed maintained status quo on policy rates at its Nov-23 policy review. For the first time in the current tightening cycle, the FOMC skipped hiking policy rate for two consecutive meetings. Although the Fed has retained flexibility to hike one more time, recent incoming economic data from the US suggests a softening bias on both activity and prices front.

Market participants are currently attaching a peak rate hike probability of just ~14% in the Jan-24 policy review. Thereafter, market participants are attaching a rate cut probability of ~66% for Jun-24 policy review.

We concur with the consensus view and continue to expect a turn in the US monetary policy cycle by mid-2024. This should allow other central banks to follow suit, with RBI likely to opt for its first rate cut in Q2 FY25.

3. Rupee view

In line with our expectations, INR continues to trade close to its record low levels vs. the USD, accompanied by subdued volatility. Factors weighing upon INR from near term perspective:

  • India’s monthly merchandise trade deficit touched a record high level of USD 31.5 bn in Oct-23.
  • Foreign investment flows (both FDI and FPI) have been subdued in recent months, possibly on account of uncertainty on US rate trajectory and elevated geopolitical risks.

While this could push INR towards a fresh all-time low of close to 84 levels (vs. the USD) by Dec-23, we note that pressure for further weakness in INR could no longer be binding in the coming weeks.

Emergence of signs of softening in US economy coupled with contained impact (so far) of Israel-Hamas war bodes well for a reversal in the INR trajectory. In the absence of fresh escalation of geopolitical risks, we continue to expect INR to partially reclaim lost ground and move towards 82 levels in Mar-24 amidst favorable Q4 seasonality and anticipated USD weakness as market participants position for a pivot in US monetary policy cycle by mid-2024.

Chart 4: Dollar and crude oil have corrected sharply in last 1-month

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

4. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between Nov-23 and Dec-22; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices; (iv) rounded off figures represented.

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

Assessing the trade impact from Israel-Palestine conflict, and outlook on Fed rate and rupee

The month of Oct-23 started on a sombre note amidst flaring up of geopolitical conflict. With fast escalation of a war-like situation in Israel and Palestine, global trade (that is still facing lingering disruptions from Russia-Ukraine war, which started in 2022) is bound to witness another jolt. In this newsletter, we assess the potential implications of Israel-Palestine war on India’s trade. This is followed by a quick assessment of US monetary policy along with the outlook on Indian rupee.

1. Trade implications of Israel-Palestine conflict

Over the last ten years, India-Israel merchandise trade has increased from USD 6.1 bn in FY 2013-14 to USD 10.8 bn in FY 2022-23. For the last reported financial year, Israel’s share in India’s merchandise trade stood at 0.9%, with India running a trade surplus of USD 6.1 bn. India is Israel’s 7th largest trade partner globally. Major exports from India to Israel include petroleum products, gems & jewellery, machinery items, etc. Major imports by India from Israel include gems & jewellery, chemicals, machinery items, etc. Potash (used in fertilizers) is a major item of Israel’s exports to India, with India fulfilling a significant share of its requirement from Israel.

  • Post Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel in Jul-17 (marking the 1st visit by an Indian PM) the relationship was upgraded to a strategic level with seven Agreements/MoUs signed in the fields of technological innovation, water, agriculture, and space.
  • Subsequently, Israel’s PM Netanyahu, made a visit to India in Jan-18 during which agreements on cyber security, oil & gas cooperation, film co-production and air transport were signed, along with five other semi-government agreements.

Table 1: India-Israel trade: Key headline numbers

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

Table 2: Snapshot of key commodity groups involved in India-Israel trade

Source: Ministry of Commerce, QuantEco Research

Overall, Israel’s commercial importance for India goes beyond official merchandise trade statistics as: (i) G2G defence trade is not reflected (and Israel happens to be amongst the key suppliers of military equipment to India), and (ii) services trade between the two nations have started to pick-up in areas of cyber security, homeland security, and R&D in high-tech sector.

Meanwhile, merchandise trade between India and Palestine is conducted through Israel and therefore, comprehensive trade statistics are not published by India’s Ministry of Commerce. As per the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, India-Palestine merchandise trade stood at USD 67.8 mn in 2020 (out of which, Indian exports and imports were USD 67.2 mn and USD 0.6 mn, respectively).

As long as the conflict continues only between Israel and Palestine, wider global trade disruptions are likely to be minimal. However, it is important to be vigilant as the situation could potentially turn into a proxy war with involvement of neighbouring countries like Syria and Lebanon, along with some mild unrest in the wider Middle Eastern region. In a worst-case scenario, escalation could turn into a full-fledged war if countries like Iran, Egypt, Jordan, etc. are drawn in – in such a scenario, the unrest in the Middle Eastern region could intensify, with the likelihood of a serious setback to global trade.


Chart 1: Involvement of neighbouring countries in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict would be detrimental for the world economy, and India

Source: CEIC, QuantEco Research

For India, there could be a double whammy in case of widespread escalation as the spike in geopolitical risk would cause crude oil prices (India sourced ~49% of its petroleum product requirement from the Middle Eastern region in FY 2022-23) to move in tandem, thereby aggravating the growth-inflation balance further. In addition, this could also impact remittance inflow from the Middle East (which accounted for ~29% of total inward remittances in FY 2020-21) and drive portfolio outflows from the country amidst global risk aversion.

Chart 2: Oil could be the prime casualty for India in case Israel-Palestine conflict escalates into a regional war

Source: Ministry of Commerce, QuantEco Research

2. Outlook on US monetary policy

Since the Sep 20th Fed policy review meeting, there has been significant upward pressure on US yields. However, the pressure is concentrated at the mid-long tenor bonds, with short dated bonds remaining almost unfazed (between Sep 20th and Oct 20th, while the 10Y UST yield has jumped by 54 bps, 6M UST yield has seen a modest increase of 2 bps). We believe this to be an outcome of the following factors:

  • While market participants expect the Fed to be close to the peak of its rate hiking cycle, expectations with respect to aggressive rate cuts in 2024 and 2025 are now being unwound. In other words, US rates could stay at higher levels for longer.
  • Fiscal concerns have risen in case of US, resulting in market participants demanding higher yields for longer medium-longer dated bonds.
  • Bank of Japan’s partial relaxation of its Yield Curve Control policy is creating a marginal upward pressure on US yields.

Market participants are currently attaching a ~21% probability to a 25 bps rate hike by the Fed by Dec-23. While there is room for one final round of rate hike before 2023 ends (between the two policy reviews scheduled on Nov 1st and Dec 13th), elevated US yields for medium-long tenors could obviate the need for incremental monetary tightening. This is going to be a close call. Going forward, market participants expect the Fed to commence its rate easing cycle from Jun-24 onwards.

Chart 3: Upward pressure on long term yields reflects expectations of rates remaining ‘higher for longer’

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

3. Outlining our expected rupee trajectory

Notwithstanding the Indian rupee’s tendency to sporadically flirt with its record low levels in FY 2023-24 so far, the price action continues to be marked by extremely low levels of volatility. In fact, with a 1.2% depreciation on FYTD basis, INR stands out as one of the best performing major currencies (barring Brazilian riyal and Polish zloty).

While India’s relatively strong post COVID economic recovery continues to provide an anchor for INR, there are concerns building up in the near-term.

  • US economic resilience has been a positive surprise, which has benefitted the dollar.
  • Adverse geopolitical developments have resulted in crude oil price jumping from its recent low of USD 75 bp in May-Jun 2023 to USD 92 pb levels currently.

This makes us believe that the currency is likely to create a fresh low of close to 84 levels against the dollar by Dec-23. If Israel-Palestine conflict remains contained, going forward, we expect the INR to partially reclaim lost ground and move towards 82 levels in Mar-24 amidst favorable Q4 seasonality and anticipated USD weakness as market participants position for a pivot in US monetary policy cycle by mid-2024.

Chart 4: Since Jul-23, dollar and crude have moved against India’s favor

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

4. CYTD price change in key commodity groups and shipping cost

Note: (i) Price change is between Oct-23 and Dec-22; (ii) Oil price is represented by Brent; (iii) Agriculture Items, Industrial Metals, and Precious Metals are represented by respective Bloomberg Commodity indices.

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

G20 and trade, widening of India’s trade deficit, and assessment of Fed rate and rupee trajectory

As India concluded a successful G20 Leaders’ Summit in Sep-23, we look at its implications for global trade as well as India. This is followed by taking stock of the change in direction in India’s merchandise trade deficit, followed by a quick assessment of US and India’s monetary policy along with our outlook on rupee.

1. G20 and trade implications

The G20, comprising of 19 countries and the EU, together accounts for 67% of world population, 75% of world trade, and 85% of world GDP. The G20 Trade and Investment Ministers’ Meeting (TIMM) reached consensus on five key areas:

  • Digitalization of trade documents: This adoption of non-binding agreement will recognize electronic trade documents as equivalent to paper documents, thereby reducing trade costs and lowering barriers to entry for MSMEs.
  • Enhancing access to information for MSMEs: The G20 TIMM adopted ‘Jaipur Call for Action for Enhancing MSMEs’ Access to Information’. This is about using the latest technologies to upgrade the Global Trade Helpdesk, a joint initiative of the ITC (International Trade Centre), the WTO (World Trade Organization) and the UNCTAD (UN Conference on Trade and Development) to provide analytical, user-friendly and easily accessible trade information for MSMEs.
  • Generic mapping framework for Global Value Chains (GVCs): The trade ministers endorsed this framework that contains key building blocks of data, analysis, and representation of GVC data. The framework also advocated to identify key dimensions to help evaluate the resilience of GVCs both at the sectoral and product levels.
  • Voluntary sharing of best practices on MRAs (Mutual Recognition Agreements) for Professional Services: The compilation of good practices will spur MRAs that will enable recognition of technical qualifications for professional service providers like doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects, etc. by all member countries. It will help Indian professionals in providing their technical services across the world.
  • G20 Standards Dialogue: To reduce regulatory divergences and associated trade costs, and monitor trade and investment-related measures, G20 Standards Dialogue in 2023 will be held to bring together members, policymakers, regulators, standard-setting bodies and other stakeholders to discuss topics of common interest such as good regulatory practices and standards.

Besides the G20 New Delhi Declaration (that highlights pertinent trade related aspects above), the Summit also served useful for making progress on trade deals/treaties.

  • India has signed an MoU with Saudi Arabia, UAE, European Union, France, Germany, Italy, and the US to establish the India Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). This will be a transnational rail and shipping route spread across two continents, which is expected to stimulate economic development through improved connectivity and economic integration between Asia, Arabian Gulf and Europe. For India, this holds immense promise of reducing export related costs to the Middle East and Europe. However, the gains are likely to accrue in the longer term.
  • From FTA perspective, progress is currently underway on individual agreements with UK, EU, and Australia. To recall, India & Australia already have Economic Cooperation & Trade Agreement in place, effective December 2022. Among these, the India-UK FTA is expected to go through first.

Meanwhile, India and Canada have “paused” their negotiations on the bilateral FTA on account of ongoing political tensions between the two countries. As per media reports, there is currently no timeline for resuming the India-Canada talks on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

Chart 1: G20 partners have ~64% share in India’s merchandise trade

Note: Figures in parenthesis indicate respective % share in India’s total merchandise trade

Data: CEIC, QuantEco Research

Nine items that dominate India’s exports with G20 partners: (i) Mineral fuels and products, (ii) Organic chemicals, (iii) Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery & appliances, (iv) Electrical machinery, (v) Pharmaceutical products, (vi) Vehicles & parts, (vii) Iron & steel, (viii) Aluminium & articles, and (ix) Misc chemical products.Chart 2: Top commodity exported by India to G20 partners in FY23

Data: Ministry of Commerce, CEIC, QuantEco Research

2. India’s monthly merchandise trade deficit is gradually expanding

India’s merchandise trade deficit has been gradually expanding and touched a 10-month high of USD 24.2 bn in Aug-23 (up from USD 18.5 bn in Jul-23, while close to USD 24.9 bn in Aug-22). Increase in commodity prices in recent months has been one of the key reasons behind the same – we note that the CRB Commodity Index averaged at 311 in Aug-22 as well as in Aug-23!

  • However, on FYTD (Apr-Aug) basis, trade deficit is cumulatively running lower by USD 14 bn. This is largely due to narrowing of the deficit on account of Ores & Minerals and Petroleum Products.
  • From country perspective, the cumulative narrowing of FYTD merchandise trade deficit is being driven by Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Chart 3: Comparison of FYTD performance of India’s merchandise trade deficit

Data: CEIC, QuantEco Research

3. Outlook on US monetary policy

Along expected lines, the US Federal Reserve left monetary policy rate unchanged at 5.25-5.50% in its Sep 20th review meet. Interestingly, while the revised dot plot* continues to highlight room for one more round of rate hike in 2023, it now suggests a greater emphasis on interest rates being ‘higher for longer’. As per the Sep-23 dot plot, the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) now projects 50 bps rate cut in 2024, lower than the projected 100 bps rate cut as per the previous dot plot of Jun-23.

Market participants are currently attaching a ~31% probability to a rate hike in the next policy review in Nov-23. As of now, market participants expect the Fed to commence its rate easing cycle from Jun-24 onwards, with likelihood of a cumulative 75 bps rate cut before the end of 2024.

Chart 4: Fed is emphasizing on interest rates being ‘higher for longer’

Data: FOMC, QuantEco Research

4. Outlining our expected rupee trajectory

The Indian Rupee weakened to a record low in Sep-23 on the back of a combination of factors:

  • Monetary policy divergence between the two largest countries (US poised for one final round of rate hike while China just delivered two rate cuts) is resulting in a stronger USD and a weaker CNY. Both are individually weighing upon INR.
  • Recent jump in global commodity prices, esp. crude oil, from an average of USD 75 pb in Jun-23 to USD 92 pb in Sep-23 (so far) would put trade deficit under pressure.

We expect the above-mentioned factors to persist in the near term because of which INR could weaken towards 84 levels within the next 3-months. Going forward, we expect the INR to partially reclaim lost ground and move towards 82 levels amidst favorable Q4 seasonality and anticipated USD weakness as market participants position for a pivot in US monetary policy cycle by mid 2024.

4. Key CYTD changes in price

Note: Price change is between Aug-23 and Dec-22 for respective generic indices

Data: World Bank, Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

Mid-year trade review, Fed’s peak rate, and reassessment of rupee trajectory

Aug-23: Global Trade Check | US Fed Rate & Rupee Outlook | New Infographics on Commodity Trends.

1. Global trade review

Global trade volume registered a contraction of 2.4% YoY in May-23. This marked the sixth annualized contraction in trade volume in seven months. Basis, UNCTAD’s nowcast model, we project global trade volume to see an average contraction of 0.9% in Jul-Sep 2023 quarter, marginally better than the estimated contraction of 1.3% during Apr-Jun 2023 quarter.

Chart 1: Volume of global merchandise trade to remain weak in the near-term

Data: CPB Netherlands, UNCTAD, QuantEco Research

From India’s perspective, we note that key trading partners in developed economies have shown contraction in their import volume in 2023 so far. The forecast of contraction in global trade volume does not augur well for real demand from these economies. Nevertheless, the value of India’s merchandise trade might find some support from firming up of global commodity prices in the last two months.

Chart 2: India’s key export market showing signs of stress

Data: CPB Netherlands, QuantEco Research

Chart 3: Recent pick-up in commodity prices if sustained, will push annualized growth in CRB index to positive territory

Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research

The commodity wise run rate for India’s exports shows a divergent behaviour, although the distribution is negatively skewed on a cumulative basis. For e.g., at one end is Electronics Items, which has outperformed others by posting a robust expansion 37.7% YoY (Apr-Jul FY24 over Apr-Jul FY23), while on the other end of the spectrum is Petroleum Products, which is proving to be a drag with 35.7% YoY contraction.

  • The spectacular performance of electronic exports derives support from government’s PLI scheme that has helped it to raise its annualized share in India’s merchandise export basket to 6.1% as of Jul-23, up from its pre COVID level of 3.7% (as of Feb-20).
  • A sizeable contraction in petroleum exports is primarily reflective of decline in price. India Crude Basket dropped from an average level of USD 109 pb in Apr-Jul FY23 to USD 78 in Apr-Jul FY24, marking a fall of ~28%.

Chart 4: Notwithstanding the sectoral divergence in export performance, the overall skew is negative

Data: Ministry of Commerce, QuantEco Research

2. Outlook on US monetary policy

After raising monetary policy rate range from 0.00-0.25% in Mar-22 to 5.25-5.50% in Jul-23, the US Federal Reserve has delivered a cumulative rate hike of 525 bps in a span of 17-months. That is tantamount to having an average rate hike of 31 bps for 17-consecutive months. Besides other factors, this has contributed towards CPI inflation in US moderating from its peak of 9.1% in Jun-22 to 3.2% in Jul-23. Despite US economy showing signs of some resilience, monetary policy seems to be having the desirable impact (that of curbing inflation), albeit with a lag. As per last FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) in Jun-23, the Fed members projected the median fed funds target range at 5.50-5.75% before the end of 2023. This implies scope for one more rate hike before the Fed reaches its interest rate peak in the current cycle.

Market participants are currently attaching a ~31% probability to a rate hike by Nov-23, followed by a pause until Mar-24. As of now, market participants expect the Fed to commence its rate easing cycle from May-24 onwards, with likelihood of a cumulative 100 bps rate cut before the end of 2024. This is in line with the FOMC projections made in Jun-23.

3. Outlining our expected rupee trajectory

The Indian Rupee weakened to a record low in Aug-23 on the back of a combination of factors:

  • Monetary policy divergence between the two largest countries (US poised for one final round of rate hike while China just delivered two rate cuts) is resulting in a stronger USD and a weaker CNY. Both individually are responsible for weighing upon INR.
  • Recent jump in global commodity prices, esp. crude oil, from an average of USD 75 pb in Jun-23 to USD 87 pb in Aug-23 (so far) would widen the trade deficit.

We expect the above-mentioned factors to persist in the near term because of which INR could weaken towards 84 levels within the next 3-months. Going forward, we expect the INR to partially reclaim lost ground and move towards 82 levels amidst favorable Q4 seasonality and anticipated USD weakness as market participants position for a pivot in US monetary policy cycle later in the year.

Chart 5: Adverse Q2 seasonality is catching up with rupee

(Data: Refinitiv, QuantEco Research)

4. Key CYTD changes in price

Note: Price change is between Jul-23 and Dec-22 for respective generic indices

( Data: World Bank, Refinitiv, QuantEco Research)

5. Key events worth tracking